Portraying stillness or inactivity is a pretty bizarre paradox in books and music when you stop to think about it because the only way to show stillness is to have movement! After all, what options do authors have of showing that a character is still? They could say something like “then she sat down and stayed there for half an hour,” but if you’re like me you just keep plowing on to the very next sentence so that movement is never really stopped on the part of the reader.
Of course, authors (like Victor Hugo) can choose to force us to live in that stillness longer by writing expansive descriptions, maybe by detailing the character’s thoughts or by describing the scene in intricate detail, but in each of these two cases “movement” is still involved! If you’re following a character’s thoughts then while they may be physically still their mind is active and moving. And if you’re reading a long descriptive passage then in a way you are moving or at least your virtual gaze is, noticing first one thing and then the other.
A similar thing can happen in music (and especially instrumental music!) where maybe we perceive stillness from super long notes/slow-moving notes that imply slow or virtually no action. Maybe the music has fast notes which repeat over and over, giving a sense of immobility despite the fact that the notes themselves are moving fast. So is it even possible to portray stillness without also having movement??
As a side note, interestingly enough art seems to work in the opposite way. Nothing is physically moving because it’s a picture (obviously) but we still get a sense of movement, like in the painting featured at the top of this post. To me it feels like the painting is a snapshot of these people, as if the painter had called out their names while they were walking away up the hill, watching them turn around for just a moment before continuing to walk away.
But for books and music at least it seems like at the root of stillness there’s still motion by necessity, if and when authors decide to portray stillness at all.
Do you agree? How have the books and music you’ve read/listened to shown stillness, if at all? Let me know in the comments!